The action has already lived up to expectations in the NBA’s first-round series.
Last week, we gave you some winning insight on the Mavericks’ upset. This time around, we’re taking a close look at three big-city battles: 76ers vs. Wizards, Knicks vs. Hawks and Suns vs. Lakers.
Uncover the key angles you should know for your NBA playoff bets!
New York Knicks vs. Atlanta Hawks
Friday, May 28 | TV: ESPN
Things were looking bleak for the Knicks in Game 2, then a second-half surge revived their hopes in the series. In spite of his incredible coaching, one of the criticisms of Tom Thibodeau has been the lack of mid-game adjustments, especially as point guard Elfrid Payton has struggled. But the injection of playoff veterans Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson to start the second half proved to be a big spark. Additionally, the Knicks figured out that Reggie Bullock’s physicality and length are the best counter for Trae Young’s dazzling offense. If Trae continues to be pressured, expect further reliance on Bogdan Bogdanovic and John Collins as scoring options.
While the Knicks are more confident after their comeback victory, the Hawks will be the slight favorites at home, where they boast a strong 25-11 record. New York will need much better performances from Julius Randle and RJ Barrett in order to pull off the upset in Atlanta. It could be a closer game than some think, just based on how well these squads match up. One positive note is Barrett has shot 43.5% from 3-point range on the road vs. his 36.8% mark at home. Also keep a close eye on the status of Knicks center Nerlens Noel, who was limited to 17 minutes in Game 2 due to his ailing ankle.
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Washington Wizards
Saturday, May 29 | TV: ESPN
Aside from Bradley Beal’s 33-point showing, the Wizards’ offense really fell off the rails in Game 2. They shot a dreadful 9.1% from 3-point range and were blown out by 25 points by a 76ers team that stepped up their defensive effort. With the series now heading to D.C., the question is whether the Wizards can bounce back and keep Game 3 closer than anticipated. And the answer to that question may lie with the status of Russell Westbrook, who is dealing with a sprained right ankle that clearly impacted his shooting in Game 2. He’ll no doubt try to play through the pain, but even if he suits up, you have to wonder how effective he’ll be against the physical 76ers D.
On the other side, Ben Simmons has tallied 23 assists in two games and should continue to dissect the Wizards' weak defense. Washington was also a fairly pedestrian 19-17 at home this season. The 76ers could further lean on Simmons to take advantage of the matchup with an injured Westbrook. Add this all up and it’s not looking pretty for the Wizards.
Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Sunday, May 30 | TV: ABC
Similar to what the Wizards are going through, the Suns’ chances are dimming because of an injury to their star point guard. Chris Paul hurt his right shoulder in Game 1, and it appeared to still be a big concern in Game 2. Even at age 36, Paul is the engine of the Suns' offense, and without him at his best, it's going to be very tough for the Suns to keep pace with all the Lakers’ weapons.
Also, it’s become crystal-clear that Phoenix doesn’t have a solution to the age-old dilemma of containing Anthony Davis (back-to-back 34-point outings). He’s simply dominated the paint after a rough Game 1 performance. The Suns tried using everyone from DeAndre Ayton to Frank Kaminsky to no avail. Dennis Schroder has also torched the Suns for 44 points over the last two games. Devin Booker's shooting should definitely improve in Game 4 but winning in L.A. is a mighty task if Paul isn't 100 percent.